Thursday, October 06, 2005

I wasn’t actually trying to turn her over, but I was standing on the vertical side of the cockpit coaming and the loaded sheet winch was under water…

One of the duties we should be able to ask of our boat is to crawl off a lee shore in stinky conditions. Modern boats, beamy things with narrow keels and canoe shaped bottoms, ineffective rudders and badly balanced rigs can be great charter boats, great downwind cruising boats, great party boats and can carry lots of gear and people. But they can fail miserably sailing to windward, especially in lots of wind. Does the Bristol 29 sail to windward? Like a scalded cat.

About two years after buying her, I wanted to test out a new suit of sails and see how she sailed and balanced in real reefed conditions. She was in Cocoa, Florida at the time on the ICW and Jay Walthers and I took her out at the beginning of an approaching storm. We sailed up to the Canaveral barge canal that connects the Indian River (what the ICW is called in that part of the state) and east to the Banana River. The Banana is a tributary of the Indian caused by the presence of Merritt Island. The Banana is narrow and shallow, the fairway being only about 100 feet wide and just deep enough for the Bristol’s draft.

By the time we got to the Banana we were triple reefed with the genoa rolled up 50 percent. The wind was well over 30 knots. I estimated 35 with stronger gusts into the 40’s. The wind was from the north, funneling straight down the river and we began tacking up the fairway. A Coast Guard RIB fell in behind us—I’m sure waiting for us to go over or be blown aground out of the fairway.

Neither happened. The boat sailed at a heel of about 60 degrees, with water over the lee coaming and seat, the loaded winch under water. But at that attitude she was steady as a rock and the high gusts would not push her over anymore. We tacked back and forth up the fairway, and made so much ground to windward that we were making two tacks between day markers. This boat really loves sailing to windward. The exercise showed me that I needed an inner forestay and a small staysail, which would keep her more upright. But it also proved that I can sail off any lee shore I’m likely to encounter.